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Engine Month: Today is 427 SOHC Day! Celebrate Ford’s Cammer!
Engine month is where we celebrate all the beautiful, big-displacement V8s
HOT ROD editor Eric Dahlquist called it the “90-Day Wonder,” but you know it as the Ford 427ci SOHC! The Cammer – for those close to this mythical motor’s odyssey – was Ford’s answer to the 426 Hemi. The 8,000-rpm single-overhead-cam (SOHC) engine became the stuff of legend for its bizarre, comeback kid history more than its performance. Let us explain.
When the 426 Hemi left its mark on 1964 Daytona 500, Ford knew it needed to up the ante with its successful 427ci side-oiler FE block. Ford submitted its SOHC (pronounced “sock”) engine design to NASCAR for competition approval. The edict came down quick and harsh: No SOHCs in competition. Some say Bill France felt the design too exotic for a stock car, others point out that Ford developed the engine with seemingly little plan for a street car. Other’s say that Dodge threatened to build a dual-overhead-cam (DOHC) 426 “Doomsday Hemi” if NASCAR approved Ford’s SOHC. Despite the pure-race nature of the 426 Hemi, Chrysler did stuff it into anything it could to get the homologation – Ford would sell the SOHC engine only as a part number.
However, that’s not where the story ends. Ford earned the “90-Day Wonder” title after it blatantly ignored France’s rejection, and developed the SOHC in short order. By May of 1964, just a few months after Chrysler’s 1-2-3 finish at Daytona, Ford had its answer to the 426 Hemi. Sadly, it wasn’t destined to do battle with the Hemi on a NASCAR oval, as the SOHC was again banned for the 1965 competition season. Instead, Ford took the SOHC drag racing. With buckets of 1960s Detroit development dollars into the engine, and parts on the shelf, Ford had to get this engine racing. It sent engines to Pete Robinson (Atlanta), Kenz and Leslie (Colorado), Connie Kalitta (Michigan), Tom Hoover (Minnesota), and Lou Baney (California). But not long after it was clear that the SOHC program was losing corporate Ford’s support, and the drag racers were left to develop this new mystery engine themselves.
Engine builders found a few issues with Ford’s timing chain design (a cheaper and quicker-to-develop solution than a suitable geardrive system), along with oiling problems, but we’d go so far as to say that this was the net result of drag racers doing what they do best – breaking things.
“[This engine] was meant to handle maybe 750 hp, and we were getting 2,500 hp out of it. We would be lucky to get four runs for qualifying and four for eliminations from a block. If we did, the crank would be laying in the bottom of a broken-up block,” said Ed Pink. “If someone would have developed a stronger aftermarket block, the history of Top Fuel racing might have been different.”
However, the SOHC became successful in the mid- to late-1960s in drag racing in car’s with bodies. Ford found homes for the engines in A/FX drag racing, using its Total Performance arm to build a dozen Ford Mustangs, and a handful of Comets during the rising Funny Car era. 1966 would be the year for the SOHC: Don Nicholson, Don Prudhomme, Pete Robinson, Bill Lawton, Jack Chrisman, Pete Gate, Fast Eddie Schartman, Tom Hoover, and Arnie Beswick were finding massive success in NHRA and AHRA racing. Sadly, Ford pulled the plug on the SOHC engine that same year in order to focus on the Cobra Jet Mustangs.
And, to come full circle, NASCAR did offer an invitation to Ford to bring the SOHC to competition in 1966 – at price of running the engine in one of Ford’s biggest cars, with the smallest carb. Ford declined.
To celebrate 427 day, we’re throwing you some of our favorite 427 SOHC stories – everything from how to build them, to what they raced in, and who hot rodded them:
Fifty years ago, it was hailed as “Ford’s greatest engine.” It’s still referred to as the “90-day wonder,” and more commonly, the “Cammer.” It’s the Single Overhead Cam 427 Ford, Based on Ford’s 427ci side-oiler block, it was intended to be Ford’s two-valve, single-overhead-cam, high-rpm answer to Chrysler’s 426 Hemi for NASCAR in 1964. But racing these purpose-built engines turned “stock cars” into “not-stock cars,” creating a situation NASCAR moved to stop. It banned “special racing engines” with its sights on stopping both the Hemi and Cammer. Chrysler sat out the 1965 season in protest while Ford continued with its Cammer-less 427ci wedge, which it had already been using in NASCAR for a couple of years.
The Ford SOHC (single overhead cam) racing engine was built in the 1960s and developed a nasty reputation by far exceeding its numbers, and it has been shrouded in myth and legend ever since. Occasionally one is shoehorned into a Cobra, kit, or hot rod and it looks (and sounds) awesome. Nothing draws a crowd at a car show like popping the hood and revealing a Cammer, the nickname for the SOHC Ford…
Jay Brown and his Shelby GT500 clone are currently holding the number one spot in the Modified Naturally Aspirated class at Drag Week 2015 with the only Ford Cammer engine in the entire 300-car field. Brown is well-known in Ford FE circles, continuing to tinker and improve Ford’s single-overhead cam 90-Day-Wonder more than 50 years after the engine was banned by NASCAR and was pressed into quarter-mile service with some of the biggest names in drag racing.
It’s like an automotive Rorschach test. Say “Shelby Super Snake,” and what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? A 427 Cobra? 1967 Mustang? 2013 GT500 Mustang? You road racer. If all of those are secondary in your head to one red, white, and blue striped Cammer-powered top fuel dragster, then you’ll be happy to see the progress Prudhomme is making on that rare nitro-burning Ford.
The long, blue dragster moved slowly toward the starting line. Pete Robinson was carefully lining up his race car for what would be his last chance to qualify for the 1971 NHRA Winternationals. Getting a spot in the 16-car field was critical. He was far from desperate, but he had no sponsor and was racing out of his own pocket. But his car had it all: a new chassis built by pipe master Woody Gilmore and a hand-formed, full-length aluminum body crafted by metal wizard Tom Hanna. Compared to the field, the car's engine was an oddity—not a Hemi of some stripe—but a Ford 427 SOHC. Pete had long felt that the SOHC configuration was better suited to nitro racing than a pushrod design, and he especially preferred the engine's ability to safely rev considerably higher.
Developed during a crash, 90-day engineering program in 1964, the 427 SOHC engine was Ford's response to the Chrysler Hemi's dominance in NASCAR during the 1964 racing season. Based on the successful 427 FE engine, the cammer featured a chain-driven roller cam in each cylinder head, actuating big valves in hemispherical combustion chambers. Horsepower was rated at 616 for the single four-barrel version and 657 for the dual quad, and Ford tested the factory engines to more than 8,000 rpm on the dyno. The engine was shaping up to be a formidable NASCAR competitor.
Should you find yourself in contention for Detroit Autorama’s Don Ridler Memorial Award by making the Pirelli Great 8 you have accomplished something. Should you then win the Ridler you are in rarified air. Hats off to Bruce Ricks of Sapulpa, Oklahoma, and Steve Cook of Steve Cook Creations, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and all the others involved in building this 1956 Ford Sunliner convertible, named the Suncammer, for taking home the Ridler honors.
The name Ed Pink is synonymous with Top Fuel racing, even though his last official duties at the quarter-mile were completed in 1980. His dominance of Top Fuel racing is legendary, and within that category he is most widely remembered for his mastery of Ford’s wild 427ci, single-overhead-cam (SOHC) “Cammer” motors from the mid 1960s. Pink weaponized Dearborn’s complicated and heavy SOHC engines to make them competitive in Top Fuel against the 392 Hemis of the time in less than three months. That success is probably why Pink considers himself a hot rodder and drag racer, though he confesses his most interesting and rewarding projects came after his drag-racing days.
In the latest HOT ROD we preview some of the cars that are debuting at the 2014 SEMA Show. Steve Strope’s Fairlane mashup of racing styles and cues from the 1960s has come together with this 1967 Farilane. Featuring a 427 SOHC engine built by the master Ed Pink, there are also features like the Bud Moore-type tube headers, Top Loader four-speed, and champ quick-change. Global West A-arms suspend the front end, and Heidt’s triangulated four-link locates the rear. The unique suspension goes one step further with torsion bars. You can see them in the trunk shot, and the adjusters for the front torsion bars are barely visible in the toe-board of the floor.
There's no better way to say it: This car is just 100 percent badass. Many projects, most notably those of the Pro Touring genre, have combined big-time performance with modern car convenience. This car eschews that in favor of a barely disguised race car with license plates, but also with some creature comforts and serious custom show car build quality. Remember George Poteet's Sick Fish 'Cuda built by Rad Rides By Troy, the HOT ROD of the year in 2007? That was a pure land speed race car with Ridler-level detail. The Trans-Cammer, as this 1970 Mustang is known, is a street car with Trans-Am race car-level performance, and if Cobo Hall allowed muscle cars to compete for the Ridler, this one might have made it into the Great Eight.